'Value system' could protect diversity

July 28, 2005

DUBLIN, Ireland — The challenge of establishing unity in diversity was among the topics explored at a conference held here to examine the impact of the Baha'i teachings on a wide range of contemporary issues.

The concept of "unity in diversity," which addresses the underlying similarities of different populations and cultures, is increasingly studied by social scientists as policy makers seek to integrate populations of various ethnic and religious allegiances. It is also a central principle of the Baha'i Faith.

Addressing the annual conference of the Association of Baha'i Studies -- English-Speaking Europe, Dr. Iarfhlaith Watson, a lecturer in sociology at University College Dublin, said sociologists have been looking at this issue since their discipline began.

"As humanity experiences its collective coming of age, the challenge is to find a way of holding people together -- not so tightly that pathological consequences ensue nor too loosely that they become lost," Dr. Watson said at the event, which was held 2-3 July 2005.

Dr. Watson concluded that allegiance to a higher cause -- such as one common faith -- could provide people with a shared value system that allows order to be maintained but provides the freedom for diversity to be protected and flourish.

Among the guests at the conference was Dr. Sheikh Shaheed Satardien, a Muslim cleric from the Dublin Inter-Faith Roundtable.

Dr. Satardien and his colleagues recently organized a conference entitled "Towards a New Religious Model for Global Peace," which aimed to bring together scholars, religious leaders, and commentators from the worlds of media and politics.

"Virtually all faiths oppose war and yet many of the world's conflicts contain religious elements," said Dr. Satardien.

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"Unity in diversity," the topic addressed at the conference, was the theme of an event hosted earlier this year by the Baha'i community of Cork as its contribution to the "European Capital of Culture 2005" program. People from 16 countries, some pictured here, attended the event, which included songs from the Dublin-based Townshend Baha'i choir, dramatic presentations, a salsa performance and lesson, traditional "canciones" ballads from Mexico, rhythmic melodies of Uganda, and Irish poetry. A member of the "Capital of Culture" organizing committee, Tom McCarthy, said the event captured the true spirit of the festival, uniting the hearts of the people who attended.

"Ireland is becoming the world in microcosm with new races, creeds, and cultures arriving on a daily basis. Potentially this country is a macro-laboratory for examining and testing strategies to promote peace that may have relevance on the global stage."

Dr. Satardien said he is very taken by the vision of peace and global justice found in the Baha'i teachings.

"I think the presentations at this conference should be heard by all people -- from academics to the man in the street -- to help them understand more about what the Baha'is are doing and how these teachings can be applied."

Talks included presentations from Baha'is who came from a range of countries including Ireland, England, Scotland, the United States, Germany, Norway, and Malaysia.

The Association was formed to foster the intellectual life of the Baha'i community and to assist Baha'is in the application of their teachings to the challenges of modern-day society.

Dr. Masoud Afnan, a specialist in infertility at the Birmingham Women's Hospital, explored the concept of the soul in the world's religions and the implications such concepts have on the ethics of contemporary fertility treatments and research.

"The differing ideas about when the soul associates itself with the new life in the womb has major implications on how the religions view such treatments, and how governments develop laws and policies," Dr. Afnan said.

Among other presentations was an overview of the forces of history from the "big bang" through to the emergence of global civilization by Dr. Nahal Mavaddat, a medical academic, from Birmingham, England.

Dr. Mavaddat said that millions of years of evolution have brought us to the point where human life, at the apex of the evolutionary process on this planet, is emerging towards its fulfillment -- global consciousness and the recognition of the oneness of humanity.

Lawrence Staudt, chairman of the Irish Renewable Energy Council, explored the notion of the natural world being an expression of the will of God.

Mr. Staudt examined the metaphorical nature of the physical world, that through "creation" we learn lessons about spiritual reality.

New research was also presented on figures from the history of the Baha'i faith including Dr. William Cormick, an Irish physician who lived in 19th century Persia and who was the only European known to have met the Bab.

Vincent Flannery from Ireland outlined information he obtained from a descendent of Dr. Cormick about his work as physician to crown prince Nasirid-Din.

Another historical figure discussed was Frank Edwin Scott, an American Impressionist painter resident in Paris and a member of the first Baha'i community in Europe. 'Abdu'l-Baha gave talks in his Paris studio and Shoghi Effendi visited him in 1920.

Malaysian-born Sathia Varqa, examined the actions of five of the world leaders addressed by Baha'u'llah in the middle of the 19th century.

(Report by Rob Weinberg.)